Role Of Media

The Role of the Media and Investigative Journalism in Combating Corruption

  • Media reporting in general, and especially investigative journalism by affiliated or

independent journalists, or indeed non-governmental organisations (NGOs), are among

the most important sources of public awareness-raising on corruption. Media reporting is

an essential source of detection in corruption cases, either for law enforcement authorities

that investigate allegations contained in the press, or indeed for companies that decide to

conduct internal investigations or self-report, or anti-money laundering reporting entities

that make suspicious transaction reports, following queries from the media or published articles.


Between the entry into force of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1999 and 1 June 2017,

2% of foreign bribery schemes resulting in sanctions, amounting to a total of 6 schemes, were

 initiated following media reports on the alleged corruption. In addition to helping to initiate

cases, media reporting may also assist with the evaluation of known matters for potential



The fourth estate should be respected as a free eye investigating misconduct and a free voice

reporting it to citizens. While recent technologies such as digital currencies, blockchain

and data mining are providing criminals with new means to commit crimes, encrypted

communications provide sources with greater confidence to bring their concerns to the

attention of the media, without fear of surveillance or reprisals. Open data is allowing

investigative journalists access to an enormous amount of previously unattainable

information and transnational networks and consortiums of news professionals facilitate

investigations that were unimaginable ten years ago.


  • The Panama Papers investigation, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for

Explanatory Reporting in April 2017, grew out of a five-year reporting push by the

International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) that dug into financial secrecy

havens and published figures for the top ten countries where intermediaries operate: Hong

Kong (China), United Kingdom, Switzerland, United States, Panama, Guatemala,

Luxembourg, Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay. Similarly, in April 2016, after a six-month

investigation, two major media outlets reported on the Unaoil scandal, an alleged

transnational bribery scheme involving bribes paid on behalf of companies in countries

across the globe, including those from Parties to the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

More recently, the ICIJ’s Paradise Papers investigations have resulted in global reporting

on the use of offshore financial centres by more than 100 multinational companies to

conceal certain transactions. The ICIJ’s investigations have involved more than 380

journalists working on six continents in 30 languages highlighting the importance of

collaborative networks for investigative journalists working on complex cross-border



Interaction between journalists and law enforcement authorities in practice

  • In investigating corruption cases – whether in the context of criminal proceedings or

investigative journalism – law enforcement and the media have a common mission: to

expose and bring justice for abuses of power for private gain. Journalists considered a

poor relationship or communication with law enforcement authorities the third greatest

obstacle to investigating and reporting on corruption. 54% of respondents had contacted

law enforcement authorities with information on corruption. Those who reported to law

enforcement mainly did so in order to obtain more information in the case or because they

knew that information they had could be useful. The next most common reason for

reporting was because of a desire to see justice done, followed by concern at the

inactivity of law enforcement in the case.


How to detect foreign bribery reported in the media

  • One of the easiest ways to monitor media reporting on corruption is to use internet

search engines and media alerts. It is important for law enforcement authorities to

monitor media in their own country as well as media in principal export or investment

destinations. The network of overseas embassies can be tasked with monitoring local

media in their respective countries of accreditation (in local languages), and translating

and reporting any credible foreign bribery allegations they come across. As mentioned

above, the OECD WGB has made several recommendations that law enforcement

authorities routinely and systematically assess credible foreign bribery allegations that are

reported in the media, and that Ministries of Foreign Affairs raise awareness among

diplomats of the need to search local media and report allegations to national law

enforcement authorities.

  • The more challenging aspect of detection through media reporting is determining

whether the story is credible. The issue of “fake news” and the serious impact it can have

has recently come to the fore and law enforcement authorities should be alert to the

possibility of false or fabricated news stories. If a media report is corroborated across

various news outlets, in various countries, this can suggest authenticity. The same applies

to stories run by well-established news outlets and journalists with a strong reputation for

reliable reporting. Media may also report on a domestic case involving the bribe recipient,

which could, in turn, alert to the possibility that a bribe payer from one of the OECD

Anti-Bribery Convention countries may be liable for a foreign bribery offence in his/her

home jurisdiction.

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